In a street in the Minorities in Bethnal Green in the 18th century, a gunsmith not only wrote a slice of English cultural history, he designed the typeface in which it was written.

William Caslon (1692-1766) created the distinct and legible font which bears his name and its success established a national typographic style, influencing type designer John Baskerville, whose work would later eclipse his own.

Caslon typefaces became the default font, used in many important documents, including the first printed version of the United States Declaration of Independence. His work marked the separation between deliberately printed books and imitations of hand-written work.

A specimen of the Caslon typeface

Caslon was born in Worcestershire and trained as an engraver before moving to London where he started a business engraving gun barrels. His precision became well known and he began cutting letter punches for the printing industry. His new friends encouraged him to set up a type foundry, which he did in 1725.

The face, inspired by Dutch baroque types, fell out of favour after his death but has seen numerous adaptations with the latest being the short-lived revival of the HW Caslon & Company name in 1998, offering an expanded version of the type.

The dynasty Caslon created eventually moved the type foundry to Chiswick but the first William Caslon died in Bethnal Green and the family tomb remains in the churchyard of St Luke, Old Street.